Homily of Bishop John Fleming on 2010 ‘Day for Life’

03 Oct 2010

3 October 2010

Homily of Bishop John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, for ‘Day for Life’

‘The meaning of Christian death and care for those who are dying’

St Patrick’s Church, Ballina, Co Mayo – Sunday 3 October 2010

“Death is part of living and the door through which we leave behind the burdens of age and illness, only to be renewed in a new way by the Resurrection won for us by Christ” – Bishop Fleming

Three weeks ago Mary died. She was a member of my extended family and I knew her for almost forty years. Her journey through life and towards God was both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary in its pattern, its ups and downs and in its setting in rural Ireland.

Extraordinary, in that she lived for almost ninety four years and she walked out from her own home, got into a car and went to hospital only six days before she died. 

Over the past number of years, despite being able to live in her own house, she needed care, a care which her family gave to her with great attention. In her earlier years they were the focus of her life and her care. Now she became the focus of their care. Care once given now became the benchmark of the loving care which she received with great willingness. It often strikes me, however, that the best carers in early life are often the worst receivers of care in old age. They somehow want to continue to care when everyone and everything tells them they deserve all the care that can be given to them.

My friends, especially those of you watching this Mass on television, you richly deserve all the care that is willingly given to you. Enjoy it. The Day for Life pastoral letter published today reminds us us that “through the patient gift of care and respect given to us when we are physically and spiritually vulnerable, we meet the tokens of God’s love and the healing life of the Kingdom already active in our world.”

Those last six days of Mary’s life gave quiet time to her and to her family. Over those days she gradually slipped peacefully into a coma.
Her family took duty around her bed and each of them had their own time with her; time to come to grips with her passing, time to care for her tenderly in her need, time to remember the good days, time to be reconciled with the past, time to then let her go to God. Quiet time is one of the great blessings given by God to those about to journey back to Him and enter eternal life. Thank God for it.

For the greater part, the quality of care given by carers of those who are ill and those who are dying is truly exceptional in our country.
They deserve the recognition and the gratitude of all of us, whether able bodied or suffering from illness. If you have an opportunity, show your appreciation of the care you receive.

Over the years Mary suffered in her own way. She grew frail through osteoporosis and she grew smaller. She was mobile but with increasing difficulty. She loved to travel and travel became more difficult. Her determination was all that really kept her going. I often thought about her suffering. She carried it silently and without anger. I always felt that she understood in a quiet, realistic way, that everyone suffers in some way during life, that hers was not the worst and that her faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered even to death on a Cross, taught her that this was part and parcel of the way in which we are saved by Christ and enter heaven. In fact, her great devotion was the Stations of the Cross, which she was able to say from a prayer book in her own home when she was no longer able to do them in the church.

Her death came peacefully, as she would have wished it. She slipped away in the early morning and I am sure she entered heaven on a bright, sunny day there, to be greeted by those she had loved and had lost for a while. Her journey through life, long thought it was, was also part of a seamless pattern of faith, which links our birth to our life and to our death. She was given life by God and she has now returned that life to God.

Our faith tells us not to be afraid as we face the end of our lives.
Death is part of living and the door through which we leave behind the burdens of age and illness, only to be renewed in a new way by the Resurrection won for us by Christ. Behind that door lies the communion of saints, which the Pastoral Letter tells us is “the communion of love, the communion of eternal life, to which we all journey through the grace of Christ.”

On a warm September afternoon we laid her to rest near where she was born. The wheel of life came full circle and I left that peaceful place with the words of the preface ringing in my ears: “Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended”.


  • The Catholic Church in Ireland celebrates Day for Life 2010 today on the theme ‘The meaning of Christian death and care for those who are dying – Lord for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended’. Please see special web feature on www.catholicbishops.ie on this year’s theme.  Since 2005 the Irish Bishops have united with the bishops of Scotland, England and Wales by jointly publishing an annual Day for Life Pastoral Letter with a common theme.
  • This Mass was televised live on RTÉ One on 3 October 2010. Speaking about this year’s theme on a special video interview Bishop Fleming said: “The Day for Life celebrates life as given to us by God. This year’s theme talks about life and gives us a very rich view of the Catholic position of life, namely that no matter how long or how short life is and no matter what condition it is lived in, life has a value because it is given to us by God.”
  • Along with Bishop Fleming’s interview on the web feature there is:
(i) the new Pastoral Letter on this year’s Day for Life theme in English, Irish and Polish. This pastoral has been circulated to parishes around the country (ii) a video interview with Marie Gribbons, a chaplain at St Francis Hospice in Raheny, Dublin, who talks about caring for those who are dying (iii) a video reflection with music and text which was filmed at St Francis Hospice in Raheny.
  • The Day for Life which has been celebrated in Ireland since 2001.The Day for Life was initiated by Pope John Paul II, to encourage the Catholic Church worldwide to promote and celebrate the sacredness of life.  In his 1995 Encyclical Letter ‘Evangelium Vitae’ (‘The Gospel of Life’), the late Pope proposed that “a day for life be celebrated each year in every country.”  The primary purpose of this day should be “to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church, and in civil society, recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition” (EV #85).  Day for Life is the Church’s special day dedicated to celebrating the dignity of life from conception to natural death.  Since 2001, the following themes have been chosen to celebrate the annual ‘Day for Life’:
2001: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life
2002: End of Life Care – ethical and Pastoral Issues
2003: The Wonder of Life, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II
2004: Life is for Living – A Reflection on suicide
2005: Cherishing the Evening of Life
2006: Celebrating the life and presence of people with disabilities in the Church and in society
2007: Blessed is the fruit of your womb – dedicated to protecting all human life
2008: Mental Health – mental ill-health can happen to anyone
2009: Focus on suicide, particularly the pastoral dimensions of this difficult and sensitive subject
2010: The meaning of Christian death and care for those who are dying

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 00 353 86 172 7678